It is unlikely that anyone — except those who speak Korean — truly understand how Jung Ho Kang feels about his rookie season with the Pirates.
The shortstop from South Korea’s English is improving all the time. He takes regular lessons and speaks it well enough to converse with his teammates.
“He is speaking in full sentences now,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said with a hint of pride. “We’ve tried to learn some Korean, too, but at the rate it is going I think he will be able speak English fluently before our Korean is good enough to matter.”
Kang seems to be a funny guy. His teammates often laugh when they around him and he gave a sometimes-hilarious interview through a translator during spring training to reporters who regularly cover the team.
However, the Pirates switched translators before the start of the regular season and his answers are now bland. The very educated guess here is that the team told the new translator to tone Kang’s comments down, especially after unfounded reports surfaced during spring training that many of his new teammates thought Kang was a distraction.
So when Kang was asked last weekend what it feels like to regularly draw large cheers when he steps into the batter’s box at PNC Park, this is what he supposedly said:
“It’s a great team to play baseball,” Kang said. “I’ve played on other teams but this is so much fun to be a part of.”
Kang certainly looks like he is more excited than that as he is hitting .288 with 12 home runs and a .823 OPS in 106 games.
No one knew for sure how the 28-year-old would perform in the United States while becoming the first native South Korean position player to make the transition from the Korean Baseball Organization to the major leagues. He was MVP of the KBO last season, hitting .356 with 40 home runs and a 1.198 OPS in 117 with the Nexen Heroes.
The Pirates signed Kang to a four-year, $11-million contract as a free agent in January as well as paying a $5,020.15 posting fee to Nexen. What seemed like a possibly risky expenditure for a frugal franchise then is looking like a bargain seven months later.
“The man knows how to play baseball, pure and simple,” Hurdle said. “That’s why our scouts liked him so much. That’s why we were willing to make a commitment.”
The only question about Kang now is his ability to hold physically for the stretch run. Major league teams play 162-game schedules in the regular season while KBO teams play 128 games.
The Pirates could also play up to 20 more games in the postseason.
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